As part of our ongoing series of conversations with leaders in sustainability, we asked BSR Conference 2015 speaker Sandra Postel, the director of the Global Water Policy Project, to share her thoughts on the role of resilience in her work, and the role of resilience in leadership.

Postel, a National Geographic Society Freshwater Fellow who has pioneered a national campaign to restore freshwater to depleted ecosystems, believes there are common principles in building resilience into ecosystems and building resilience into leadership.

Eva Dienel: How do you focus on resilience through your work on water?

Sandra Postel: Water is the planet’s greatest gift and the source of life itself. We owe everything to the sun-powered hydrological cycle—from the diversity of life, to the beauty of our landscapes, to the water supplies that sustain our economies. And yet our use and management of water have disrupted critical parts of this cycle. We have depleted rivers, wetlands, soils, and groundwater, which places us in a precarious position to meet the water, food, and material needs of our growing population in the decades ahead.

My work focuses on building resilience by engaging the public and the business community in balancing their water footprints by returning water to the natural environment. Our Change the Course initiative promises to return 1,000 gallons of water to a depleted ecosystem for every personal pledge to conserve. With support from our corporate sponsors, we partner with on-the-ground conservation groups to ensure high ecological value per dollar invested.

We have piloted Change the Course in the Colorado River Basin, and, thanks to the more than 130,000 people in our pledge community, and nearly two dozen corporate sponsors, we have restored billions of gallons of water to depleted rivers and wetlands, from the headwaters in the Rockies all the way to the delta in Mexico. It’s a start.

Dienel: What kind of leadership is required today to create a resilient future?

Postel: Resilience is the ability of a system to cope with disturbance while maintaining its principal functions and characteristics. This can apply to an ecological system or a socioeconomic system—and we need to maintain the functioning of both. So I believe we need leaders who think holistically, act for the good of the whole, and inspire others to join the movement for a more secure future.